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Day 17 of The Candid Odyssey

Get up, we have a morning train to catch. Today, we are going to the place known for the iconic representation of Indian tourism. None other than Agra, which houses the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. Very excited! With the village views the train journey offered, we reached Agra by afternoon. Luckily, we got a cheap hostel that's at a walkable distance of the Taj Mahal. The name itself is interesting, “Love India Hostel”. Anyway, no time to waste now. Let's walk towards the wonder. The path towards the wonder itself is well structured. As we move forward, we get a feeling that we are going to experience something great. The tight security checks add up to that. And then after passing through a few gates, there it is, the white epitome of love! An architectural marvel indeed. Actually to get inside the mausoleum, to see the tomb, we need an extra pass. Even though a large percentage of visitors don't take that extra step, we can't skip it. We are known for exploring the inside, aren't we? :) The inside is very quiet and empty, just like our mind. As there was no one around me, I softly sang a few lines of my own music and it echoed within the walls. Goosebumps! Literally, we have imprinted our music on the Taj Mahal marble and tomb. By the way, those marbles are really huge and beautiful. Outside, we also get to see the beauty of the Yamuna River, flowing quietly.

From that peaceful atmosphere, we are moving to the city, where the actual bustle happens. The roadside is full of small vendors selling chaat (snacks). Agra Fort is the main attraction near the city center. An ancient red sandstone fort with large courtyards, gardens, and palaces inside. Very spacious. Those buildings inspire us to visualize royal events, processions, and similar history. And even fantasize about being the kings or queens :) After spending some time resting and daydreaming, it's time to go out. When we get out of that fort, we get chased by small children asking for food and money as charity. This is a tough situation in which I always feel stuck. What shall we do? If we help them, we are just motivating them to keep doing what they are doing, which is not good for their future. If we don't help them, they may starve and end up with severe illnesses and death. There is no right way to deal with this situation, it's a complicated dilemma. But we are going to try this time. I took a few children to the nearby vendor and bought them food and juice. We ate together and shared what we had. Even though they were extremely disinterested in talking, after a few tries, I managed to let them open up about their lives. They live in the city slums, don't go to school, rely on charity for survival, and have parents who do the same. But they all are very happy with their lives. That led me to take this conversation ahead with the vendor. He had a degree, tried many jobs, and ended up running a street food stall in his thirties. He introduced me to the concept of “Free Life” which he believed was a lifestyle choice of the poor. A life that is granted by others, a life in which everything is free, a life in which you don't have to worry about anything. He clarified that there are schools that are free, and there are schemes and foundations that help the children to go to school and the parents to find jobs, but many families neglect that because they are happy with the free life. So, why do we need to fix the lives of people who are already happier than us? Why do we need to force our views and beliefs onto others who have no interest? Why do we care for those who didn't ask us to care? It's getting more complicated, isn't it? But there is a reason to care. Out of the many children I met, there was one named Rohan. Around 10 years old. He wants to go to school and become a soldier when he grows up. But his parents have no interest in sending him to school because, obviously, it's not going to help in the short term. He now sells used bottles and scraps to contribute to the family's survival. I believe Rohan's dreams are trapped in his undesirable family circumstances. And there may be many more children out there like Rohan. Those who are deprived of achieving their dreams just because of the situations they were born in. It's not their fault nor of their parents. It's the way it is, the ancestral chain of harsh realities. We can ignore them, help them survive, or give them the wings to fly. You choose.

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